Whenever a Shakespeare play is “modernized,” “updated,” or otherwise altered to appeal to a contemporary audience, it’s important to be skeptical, for we would hate to witness a poor reinvention of the wheel. The catch with Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s new production at the Capital Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) is that Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece” is not a play, but rather a poem. Some kind of expansion or twist on the original is the best way to expose the rhetoric of Shakespeare’s narrative poem, which, without it, would otherwise consist of one solemn speaker belting out iambic pentameter, stanza after stanza.
With imaginative choreography, several gutsy performances, and a kickass set by the band, Taffety Punk’s The Rape of Lucrece may best be thought of as a concert poem. These are not my words, but rather those of Artistic Director and rockin’ lead guitarist Marcus Kyd, who explains in a recent press release that “anyone who comes expecting a play will be disappointed.”
Instead, the show is a cocktail of poetry, theatre, music, dance, and special effects, all of which are entwined with one another while never feeling overdone individually.
I started taking notes, but after 10 minutes I decided that was not in the spirit of this show.
Shakespeare is perpetually playful here, plus narrator Tonya Beckman was every bit as rhetorically flashy as the narrator, a role that doubles as lead singer when the tunes kick in.
With Lucrece on bass and Collatine on drums (for those historicizing at home), Beckman had a rhythmic foundation that amplified her line-to-line shifts in tone and mood. Sometimes, though, Kyd and the band take over, and you’re suddenly at a concert where you can’t hear the lead singer very clearly.
Add in the elegant movement of Lucrece (Kimberly Gilbert), Tarquin (Joel David Santner) and Katie Murphy—who is listed as Lucrece’s shadow and Maid—as well as sound effects and intense lighting, and I felt absorption became the necessary mode of experience, not rapid interpretation. CHAW provides an intimate, appropriately dark space for the poem’s action.
The Rape of Lucrece
Closes October 6, 2012
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Here is a brief summary of that action: Tarquin is the son of the King of Rome and lusts for Lucrece, the wife of the aristocrat Collatine (Dan Crane). Early during a visit by Tarquin, Collatine boasts of Lucrece’s immense beauty, and Tarquin becomes even more enthralled. After much dramatic build-up, Tarquin acts on his desires, sneaking into Lucrece’s chambers while she is alone at night. Lucrece subsequently commits suicide.
Shakespeare’s version does conclude by discussing the overthrow of King Tarquin by Collatine and Lucius Junius Brutus, which, as the story goes, leads to the founding of the Roman Republic. The decision to not tread past Lucrece’s death was for the best, as this production is not interested in being overtly political. Those interested in history should consult the full poem before or after, but during Taffety Punk’s “The Rape of Lucrece,” they should be ready to sit back, like the rest of us, and rock out.
The Rape of Lucrece, by William Shakespeare, adapted by Taffety Punk. Directed by Marcus Kyd. Choreographed by Erin Mitchell. Featuring Kimberly Gilbert, Marcus Kyd, Tonya Beckman, Joel David Santner and Dan Crane. Produced by Taffety Punk. Reviewed by Ross Preston.